Camp carves a notch in Caruso’s heart

Camp leaders: Liz Caruso, left, director of Little Notch, stands with Emily Dixon, the camp’s program director. As her shirt indicates, Dixon will be a senior at Clarkson University.  She is studying to be a physical therapist. She came to camp as a Girl Scout through its last open summer in 2008.  In 2011, she returned as a volunteer in re-opening the camp, a counselor in 2012, and unit leader in 2013

A local family’s love of nature is bringing new life to an historic camp in the Adirondacks. Elizabeth Caruso, formerly of Altamont, is the director of Camp Little Notch in Fort Ann (Washington Co.), and her sister, Christa, is the camp’s volunteer food supervisor.

The Caruso sisters, including a third sister, Cindy, spent childhood summers at Camp Little Notch when it was a Girl Scout camp, Liz Caruso said. When the Girl Scout camp closed in 2008, alumnae rallied and began the process to save the camp.

Friends of Camp Little Notch formed, eventually partnering with the Open Space Institute in November 2010 and taking over the property in January 2011. Caruso was named director earlier this year in May.

“It’s very exciting,” Caruso said. “I moved back home from Oklahoma. I came back for the position.”

The camp is offering its first full summer season of all-girls camping. Girls ages 7 to 17 can sleep away from home during six one-week sessions and two two-week sessions. In addition to the formal summer camps, Camp Little Notch opens its facilities to the Capital Region and beyond.

“Spring and fall, we have a number of community camping events,” Caruso said.

Camp renewed

This year marks the 75th anniversary since the camp first opened, Caruso said, and the camp is celebrating with an All Friends Reunion and Membership weekend August 15 to 17. Visitors can relax, do traditional camp activities, or take a leisure hike to a Civil War-era site within the camp.

“On our property, we have a smelting furnace,” she said, referring to an old furnace left over from the iron ore mines in the Adirondacks more than a century ago. “That’s one of the hikes.”

Campers can see cellar holes — the remains of homes from the people who mined the ore — near the furnace, she said. “Every hole is an historical site.”

The furnace hike is a leisurely two-hour walk, she said, but trailheads abound along the road near the camp.

“There are a lot of great hikes in the area,” she said.

The camp is available for rentals for events like weddings, small groups, youth groups, and family reunions, and offers traditional camping activities like boating, swimming, and hiking as well as newer wellness activities. Last week, she said, The College of Saint Rose brought its freshman orientation leaders to camp “to build communication and trust as a team.”

“We do a lot of those types of programs,” Caruso continued. “We have a big private company coming in this week with 130 people renting the whole camp.” Visitors can expect games, a ropes course, boating, and swimming, she said.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous here,” Caruso said. “Pristine water, pristine woods. It’s a shame to let it sit unused.”

Volunteers

“We have a big volunteer program,” Caruso said. “There’s a lot of alumni — a lot like to come back and to give back to the youth.”

This summer, the camp still needs to hire counselors, kitchen staff, and some nursing staff for the regular camping season that runs July 6 through Aug. 15. Volunteers are needed to lead nature or ecology groups and hikes, she said. For other, private, programs, Caruso said, volunteers help as needed, such as lifeguarding for events.

Volunteers are necessary, as the camp is still doing heavy fundraising to cover camp scholarships, or camperships, and the purchase price of the property.

“We are doing a lease-to-purchase,” Caruso said. Of the original 2,000 acres, Friends of Camp Little Notch sought an agreement to purchase 443 acres. The newly formed camp includes an 80-acre private lake.

“We’re still in the process of purchasing the land,” Caruso said. “That’s our biggest fundraising project.” The camp must come up with $125,000 by the end of this year, she said, and almost $1 million in the next three years, according to its agreement.

Facility rentals, private donations, and grant-writing are part of the camp’s plan to meet those financial goals. The camp hopes to increase its membership base, also, with yearly memberships costing only $25 per year, or lifetime memberships set at $500.

The camp’s Adopt an Acre program allows contributors to donate $5,000 toward the land purchase as a memorial to a loved one, anonymously, or as part of a business outreach, Caruso said. Information about the program can be found at www.friendsofcln.org.

One group of lifetime friends who camped at Little Notch pulled together to adopt an acre, Caruso said. Other alumnae give in different ways, she said.

“Alumnae, community members, and other people come with skills of a particular nature,” she said. Her sister, Christa, is donating dietary skills as food supervisor, while other helpers come to camp and rake trails, Caruso said.

Camperships

Donations directly intended for scholarships are always accepted, Caruso said. The camp offers its summer sessions on a tiered-cost basis, with full scholarships, partial scholarships, and full-cost tiers available. Costs range from $480 to $780 per week, but full scholarships can be requested, according to www.camplittlenotch.org.

“Nobody will be turned away for lack of funds — we have scholarships available,” Caruso said. Local businesses, like Columbia Landscape and Tree Corporation, donate time or equipment to clear trails or offer partial scholarships, she said. Supporters who do not have campers but want to support a young girl also make contributions, Caruso said. She is currently soliciting scholarship contributions from the Capital District, she said.

“I have a stack of scholarship applications on my desk,” she said. “Every child who wants to come, I want to make that happen. We need to support that endeavor.”

So far, 90 girls are registered for camp, but Caruso’s goal is to have 150 campers this summer.

“We could accommodate more, but that is the goal,” she said.

By the end of June, the camp had offered 26 partial and full scholarships combined, but 18 applications are still waiting for funds, she said.

“We’re doing some outreach into the community. We’re waiting for more funds to be available,” she said.

The camp offers transportation from Crossgates Mall in Guilderland and from Saratoga County, or parents may drop their children off at camp, Caruso said. Caruso and her sisters lived in Altamont when they attended the camp; they are the daughters of Rosemary Caruso, who writes the Altamont correspondents column for The Enterprise.

While the summer camps are for girls only, Caruso said, Labor Day weekend will allow campers to attend a Friends, Family, and Fellows event. Community camping is available from Aug. 17 to 26. A women’s weekend will be held Sept. 19 and 21, and, afterward, more community camping from Sept. 22 to Oct. 10.

“That’s a beautiful time here, because it’s when the fall colors start to come in,” Caruso said.

Little Notch will hold a fall stewardship weekend from Oct. 10 to13, when supporters learn how to care for a camp and close it for the season, Caruso said.

Costs for these community events are $50 per adult per day, $25 per child per day, and free for children 5 and under. All camping events offer access to the camp and facilities, she said.

“We spend time getting to know each other, build trust, team work, find common ground on which to build these things, and enjoy nature,” Caruso said, “not just for another 75 years, but well into the future, as well.”

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